The president of the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations, a prominent advocacy organization, filed this week for the open at-large seat on the school board.
Lynne Harris, 57, said in an interview on Friday morning that her aim, if elected, would be to elevate the student voice in Montgomery County Public Schools’ decision-making processes.
“I believe very strongly that every decision in our school system, from the hyperlocal to systemwide, has to include, in a meaningful way, the student voice,” Harris said. “Students outnumber us, and they know things nobody else does. Their lived experience in our school district every day has to inform every decision.”
Two other candidates also have filed since Thursday morning.
On Thursday, Gaithersburg attorney Michael Fryar filed to challenge incumbent Rebecca Smondrowski in District 2.
On Friday morning, Sunil Dasgupta, of Silver Spring, filed as an at-large candidate.
In total, as of Friday afternoon, there were six at-large candidates and two in District 2. District 4 board member Shebra Evans, of Silver Spring, is the only candidate in that district who had filed as of Friday.
Harris’ decision to run for school board meant she had to resign from her post as president of MCCPTA, a position she’s held since April 2017.
Cynthia Simonson, the organization’s vice president of educational issues, will serve as acting president until MCCPTA selects its next permanent president.
“I would say it was a bit of a hard decision, because it did mean having to resign from my executive office with MCCPTA, but I did see an opportunity to use the depth and breadth of knowledge I’ve gained in … a different way,” Harris said in an interview.
Harris, of Silver Spring, has been involved with MCCPTA since 2010.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Tulsa, a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis, and a master’s in health science from Johns Hopkins University. She also has a teaching certificate from the Maryland State Department of Education and teaches in MCPS.
In the District 2 race, Fryar, a former elementary school teacher, said he sees serving on the school board as a “great way of me continuing to work in the area of education.”
Fryar moved to Montgomery County from Connecticut about a year-and-a-half ago and has two children at Fields Road Elementary School.
Fryar said his candidacy platform will include his position that all students should attend their neighborhood schools, figuring out why “young men are no longer choosing college as an option and what we can do to stop that trend” and addressing issues “across the board” regarding gender, gender identity and mental health problems.
Citing international data, specifically from Denmark, Iceland and Sweden, Fryar said higher education enrollment is dropping among male freshman.
On the topic of an ongoing districtwide boundary analysis, Fryar said he opposes any changes that would include busing children long distances. He said he believes that no school should have more than 25% of students eligible for free and reduced-priced meals.
“How do we accomplish that is the question,” Fryar said.
Fryar, who was born in Los Angeles, was a high school dropout. He later received his general education diploma (GED), then a bachelor’s in communications from Southern Connecticut State University. He received a master’s degree in early childhood education from the same school. He also holds a law degree and a master’s of business administration.
“I was a classroom teacher, I was a union representative and I’m used to dealing in those venues,” Fryar said in an interview on Thursday. “I do have the education as an attorney and the business experience to be able to not just take on roles, but know what questions to ask and what to be looking for.”
Along with owning a law firm in Connecticut, Fryar owns a small entertainment company in Maryland.
He previously ran for a city council seat in Hartford, but lost.
Dasgupta, 51, is the program director for the political science program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County at The Universities at Shady Grove.
He has a master’s degree in political science and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Dasgupta, chair of MCCPTA’s Health and Wellness Committee, immigrated to the United States from India in the 1990s. His three children attend MCPS.
His platform focuses on three main points: strengthening bonds between teachers and students, hiring more teachers, staff and counselors, and investing in student and staff members’ health and safety.
Dasgupta would aim to make class sizes smaller, primarily by hiring more staff, “like, a lot more,” he said Friday. Then, he would work to keep those teachers on the payroll.
“I’ve been in the classroom for almost 20 years. I know what teachers want,” Dasgupta said. “… I think we have to value teachers … and what they do, and give time both to train up and to be able to build these relationships with individual kids.”
Dasgupta said he believes strongly that every student should have access to high-quality education.
“We can’t forget that public education in America has a public and social purpose,” he said. “It has to be equally accessible to everyone. Where I grew up in India, this was not the case. Either your family has money and you go to private school or there is a brutal, brutal process of selection and early tracking and allocating resources only to those most likely to succeed. That’s not our system. We have a system that is designed to serve everybody.”
Other candidates are Jay Guan, Cameron Rhode, Steve Solomon and Pavel Sukhobok. The filing deadline is Jan. 24.
School board candidates serve a four-year term. They are paid a $25,000 annual salary, aside from the board president, who receives $29,000.
The school board’s primary election is April 28, and the general election is Nov. 3.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org